The James Street Tavern can be found at 422 Foreland St, in the North Side of Pittsburgh. Still sitting in the original building where it opened in 1890, the Tavern makes you feel like you are walking back into the history of the city. Numerous famous Jazz players, both from Pittsburgh and around the country sit on the wall staring at you as you enter the dinning room. One whole wall is dedicated to Jazz musicians who have played in the restaurant, filling the space with music and rhythm. Other pictures and furniture help to continue to offer an authentic air to the entire building. Even the restaurants menu’s represent it’s past, as it is made from old record albums. The rest of the Tavern features a bar, a ball room on the second floor, and a down stairs called the Speak Easy, where live Jazz performers still play Tuesday, and Friday through Sunday nights.
When the James Street Tavern first opened it was not meant to be only a restaurant, it was also a meeting place. When the first unions started in Pittsburgh they needed a place to go, and the Tavern became their favorite place. Union reps from all over the city would meet here to have a beer, talk union business, and listen to the different jazz musicians playing for their blue’s. The tavern was the union’s headquarters, and numerous decisions that would affect Pittsburgh up until today were made right in that building. One surprising fact that most people do not know is that on the fourth floor there was a screen and projector, and during the week people would come and watch different propaganda movies. I can personally tell you that the original projector is still up there.
Outside the restaurant the entire area still has an older architectural feel to it. Most buildings are under contract, and they must remain the same way as they were when they were built. Owners have to actually get permission to change anything on the outside of the house. Also, within a 10 minute walk are the Mexican War Streets, which with it’s history and art, is a interesting place for anyone to walk around and see.
Besides the classic history that surrounds you in the dining room, the food there is amazing. With a selection that offers a variety between salad, smoked pulled pork, seafood, and even a burger where the bun is made out of a doughnut. There is a little bit of something for everyone. The waiter that we had was very personable and outgoing, and could easily recommend 8-10 different entree’s that he enjoyed. He continued his excellent service by routinely stopping by the table, not only to check on our meals, but also just to create a comfortable conversation and connect with you. Between our waiter, food and dining atmosphere, I would say that this is definitely a place you should try for your night out on the town.
As I stated above the Tavern also contains a bar, dining hall and the Speak Easy lounge. The bar is separated from the dining room by a low wall, and is set up to accommodate any person who wants to stop in. It could prob fit an easy 15 people, and has two plasma televisions, so even with the old style atmosphere you can enjoy your sports. The dining room is on the second floor, where patrons can go to eat as well as listen to the music and dance if they wish. I did not see this personally as it was closed the night that I went, but I was assured that many locals, along with random customers enjoy coming and dancing in the hall. It can also be rented out for parties and such if you are looking for somewhere new to go. Lastly the Speak Easy is in the basement. Here is where all true Jazz fans would love to go. There is an $15 dollar per table cover charge at the door, but this will let you be there all night if you would like. Imagine an old style Jazz club and you are in the Speak Easy. With tables where you can eat, relax and enjoy the music coming from the musicians on the stage. You will soon forget your troubles, and that you are in fact, still in Pittsburgh.
This was definitely one of the more unique restaurants that I know of in Pittsburgh. I was not aware that the city still offered restaurants with music, at least not with such authentic history to it. If you are unsure as to where to go on a weekend night, I strongly suggest you strap on your dancing shoes, and head over to the James Street Tavern for a beer, good food and a fun night.
By Adam Kephart